Netflix released an enormous number of high-quality shows under its Originals banner this year. There seemed to be a constant stream of new “must watch” shows ― so many that it could be hard to choose in any given week.
That means many stellar shows got lost in the content deluge. So, here, I’m circling back to recommend a few underrated Netflix Originals series that are worth a watch before year’s end.
A few of these went so unnoticed that Netflix canceled them. Others will be back for another season, but didn’t earn as much critical attention as they deserved. You should consider giving all of them a second chance.
Read on to see the recommendations and watch the trailers.
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Details: In this comedy, a group of friends from college still hang out in their 40s. Despite having more money and more years of wisdom, these friends continue to get into immature hijinks. Their New York City home makes it easy to bounce between high-profile careers during the day to drinking, drug use and hookups during long nights.
The main cast includes Billy Eichner, Nat Faxon, Keegan-Michael Key, Annie Parisse, Fred Savage, Cobie Smulders and Jae Suh Park.
“Friends From College” runs 16 episodes of roughly 30 minutes each over two seasons.
Underrated Because: Netflix canceled this after just two seasons. As I’ve written about before, the first season of “Friends From College” simply wasn’t good. The second season had a reset though, and the show succeeded with a focus on comedy versus the pulpy, soap opera-esque relationships of the first season. Having a charismatic cast of comedic actors means these episodes are a delight to watch even if the show has little to say dramatically.
Details: Killer Mike is one half of the hip hop duo Run the Jewels. In this docuseries, he lives through various thought experiments meant to illustrate breaks in the American economy and political system. For example, in the first episode he tries to buy only Black-created and -sold goods for multiple days, a task that’s nearly impossible given who owns the means of production and distribution in the United States.
Killer Mike hosts all the episodes.
“Trigger Warning” runs six episodes of roughly 25 minutes each over one season.
Underrated Because: Netflix has yet to renew the show, and it got little critical attention. Killer Mike does a phenomenal job of illustrating underreported issues in the Black community in America. This docuseries is full of comedy and levity, a rarity when tackling such serious problems. Killer Mike’s clear devotion to these causes allows for these atypical journalistic journeys not to come across as shallow.
Details: In this mystery-driven thriller, a small group of people somewhat accidentally learn how to jump between dimensions. Others then try to exploit this for personal gain. The discovery of this power leads to more strange discoveries about the universe. It falls on a ragtag group to try and figure out these new mysteries before bad actors corrupt life itself.
The cast is large, but a few stars includes Kingsley Ben-Adir, Brit Marling, Phyllis Smith and Zendaya.
“The OA” runs 16 episodes of roughly 60 minutes each over two seasons.
Underrated Because: Netflix canceled this after just two seasons. This show appears to have a devoted fanbase, but one that Netflix apparently decided wasn’t big enough. While I thought the first season didn’t deserve the attention, this second season may have been the most stylish show on television this year. The directing and cinematography are phenomenal in Season 2, making it a pleasure to get lost in this mysterious world.
Details: In this comedy, college students at a prestigious school grapple with social justice causes in an era that seems increasingly hopeless. While the first couple of seasons dealt with student protesters earnestly trying to make a difference, the recent third season focuses more on asking the question, “What’s the point?” The characters don’t believe they can make a difference anymore, and so they start thinking about self care and personal survival.
The cast is large but a few stars include Logan Browning, Giancarlo Esposito, DeRon Horton, Marque Richardson and Antoinette Robertson.
“Dear White People” runs 30 episodes of roughly 30 minutes each over three seasons.
Underrated Because: The third season earned far less critical praise than the first two, and I think this season ended up being misunderstood. The first two seasons were easy to praise as they delved into the knottiness of social justice issues with strong characters who were up to the task of working through those knots. This season deserves praise for getting even knottier and telling the story of a more realistic world, where nobody has the answers and emotional energy runs out. Perhaps this makes for less compelling stories, but this season matched the scary, dreadful feeling of living in 2019 better than anything I’ve seen this year.
Details: Larry Charles is a comedian who wrote for “Seinfeld” and directed movies like “Borat.” In this docuseries, he travels the world to find comedians performing in the bleakest and unlikeliest of places. Charles shows the inherent ubiquity of comedy, and that locations where there’s great pain still have levity by necessity.
Larry Charles hosts all the episodes.
“Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy” runs four episodes of roughly 60 minutes each over one season.
Underrated Because: Netflix barely marketed this show, and it seems to have gone unnoticed by critics. Despite the subject matter, this show should appeal to people outside of the comedy world. I haven’t seen any docuseries that blends high levels of comedy and tragedy quite like this. The series is ultimately a reminder of the deep richness of experience in all parts of the world despite constant reports of danger and despair.
Details: In this comedy based on Ryan O’Connell’s memoir “I’m Special,” O’Connell plays a fictionalized version of himself, a gay man with cerebral palsy figuring out his identity. At first, he doesn’t tell people that he has cerebral palsy and explains his limp as the result of a car accident. In a satire of contemporary media, O’Connell’s character also works for a buzzy media site that’s similar to Thought Catalog, a site O’Connell used to write for.
The main cast includes O’Connell, Marla Mindelle and Punam Patel.
“Special” runs eight episodes of roughly 15 minutes each over one season.
Underrated Because: Netflix has yet to renew this show. I deeply appreciated the 15-minute runtimes of these episodes that made them reminiscent of a YouTube series (which makes sense given its casting and tonal similarities to the YouTube project “The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo”). This basically has the overall runtime of a movie ― I imagine Netflix will experiment with this sort of thing more in 2020.
Details: In this animated comedy, two anthropomorphic bird best friends live in a bird city. Despite being in their early 30s, they still do just about everything together. This starts to cause an existential friction in their relationship, as they both realize they want to start focusing more time on romantic relationships and careers in pursuit of a higher meaning.
The main voice cast includes Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong and Steven Yeun.
“Tuca & Bertie” runs 10 episodes of roughly 25 minutes each over one season.
Underrated Because: Netflix canceled this after just one season. Although this list isn’t ranked, I’d still say this is by far the most underrated show of 2019 ― “Tuca & Bertie” is easily in my top five Netflix shows of the year. Its creator, Lisa Hanawalt, already gave Netflix hit “BoJack Horseman” its unique aesthetic as that show’s production designer. A just company would have let her keep making “Tuca & Bertie” indefinitely.